Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Jul 19, 2011 in Boardgames

Dystopian Wars – Miniatures Game First Impressions

By Jim Zabek

Dystopian Wars.  Miniatures Game First Impressions.  Publisher: Spartan Games. 

It might come as a surprise to some, but miniatures games have been amazingly resilient in the face of the onslaught of electronic gaming. Despite the ever-improving graphics and immersiveness, the popularity of minis games is growing, rather than shrinking, and many boardgame companies have figured out that one of the best ways to remain relevant to a younger audience is to include some minis in the box.

There’s more to the story, though. Well-crafted sculpts can attract attention but there is also the aspect of personal artistry. I’m no Michelangelo, but given the time to warm up (I tend to paint in spurts rather than regularly) my minis don’t look half bad. There is a degree of personal satisfaction that comes with putting your own touches on an army about to take the field, and somehow there is also a bonding process: when you handle the minis up close for a period of time as you file, prime, and paint them I find some kind of personal connection. *This* mini is where I had trouble with the shading. *That* mini I never quite got the arm right … and so on.


My fleet steams out to do battle with the Empire of the Blazing Sun.

Over the last several years I have been slowly sucked headlong into the minis gaming world. In a way, I suppose, I am simply returning to my roots. I still have memories from when I was a kid, building various models in my basement. Invariably my favorites were sci-fi, but I built models of movie monsters (Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, a Giant Scorpion), and I even built a few cars, though I’m not much of a car buff.

So in retrospect I suppose it’s small wonder that I have returned to painting something. Not well, nor often, but well enough, often enough.

As the gaming editor of a Website it’s an occupational hazard that I am genetically predisposed to be on the prowl for new games. Most gamers I know – the serious ones – they’ve already got more games than they can play in a lifetime but are always buying more. Me? It’s worse. I have an excuse. It’s my profession to keep a toe in the water. And the waters these days run deep and wide.

The latest feed for my addiction is a gem of a game from Spartan Games out of the UK called Dystopian Wars. What’s it got to offer? You might want to sit down for this. Seriously. Seated? OK. Steampunk Prussian Zeppelin aircraft carriers.

If your mind didn’t get blown you should quit reading now.

A Prussian Zeppelin Aircraft Carrier? Yeah, they’ve got that.

Personally, I warmed slowly to the coolness of the concept of the zeppelin. Yeah, I guess I saw the movie Hindenburg and have been scarred ever since. But recently I’ve overcome that experience and Dystopian Wars has done nothing to slow my recovery.

What is Dystopian Wars? In short, it’s a Victorian-age steampunk miniatures game that offers land, sea, and air combat on a tactical scale. Modestly priced compared to many minis games these days, a starter set can be had for about $50. A rule book is another $30, but those can be shared if funds are tight.

Presently, there are four nations active in this sci-fi world: Prussia, Britannia, Empire of the Blazing Sun, and Federated States of America. A new nation is set to be revealed soon, the Covenant of Antarctica, though the global map of the game outlines a few more nations and the hope remains that we may yet see even more factions eventually emerge.

In chatting with the folks at a local gaming store I learned that Dystopian Wars was being picked up by some of the historical gamers. At first I found this surprising – steampunk and grognard aren’t often heard in the same sentence. Despite the initial disconnect I quickly learned to appreciate the game’s mechanics. This isn’t Command Decision: Test of Battle, but it’ll satisfy for a good skirmish game.

First, there is a combined-arms aspect to the game. The rules include spotting for artillery. Weapons have limited fields of fire and the strength of fire can vary according to range for many weapons. There are land, sea, and air units. The rules are scalable with a point system allowing players to specify an army size and make selections from there. In addition there are some general guidelines for force structure – e.g. up to 70% of a force may be constructed of medium-class models. The nice thing is that there is some flexibility so players aren’t constricted to creating a force with X number of medium models. The “up to X%” means gamers are free to play around within certain parameters to find their personal mix for a force.

The game also features the concept of “exploding dice:” the roll of a six on a d6 equates to two hits (not just one) and allows for the roll of an additional hit. This can mean that a few lucky sixes can blossom, and sometimes the little ships can get lucky. It’s a great technique that adds relevance to smaller units while still giving the edge to large ones.

Minis games have several factors that play into their quality. The rules are one aspect, but another is the product you play with. The miniatures themselves can be evaluated on several criteria. One is the attractiveness of the sculpts. For that, the images accompanying this article will speak for themselves. The second is the variety. Each nation has a unique look and feel that makes its minis immediately similar enough to be internally consistent but different enough to distinguish it from other nations. Another aspect is the number of sculpts. Dystopian Wars was released less than a year ago and the variety is already respectable. However, within the last week (as of this writing) several new models have been released and more are promised for later this year. Following are some images of upcoming releases along with a description of them.

No steampunk game would be complete without submarines, and Dystopian Wars delivers. Check out this Empire of the Blazing Sun sub.

There’re also more on the way. Giant robots, like the Prussian Metzger – one of the largest models that is presently scheduled for release – will come with two different poses, one on land (some can fly, too) and one wading through the water.


One of the most anticipated releases is the Covenant of the Antarctic. A lot of anticipation centers around this faction as the head of it is the person who discovered the mysterious power source, Element 270, which allows the energy-consuming weapons and vehicles to function. We have been given a first-look at some of these new vehicles and ships, and they appear to be just as attractive and unique as others in the game.

Here’s a look at a land Battle Group. Click on the image to enlarge it.

And here’s a look at the Covenant’s carrier. Again, click to enlarge the image.

I will be following the development and release of Dystopian Wars as more miniatures and updates come out. For miniatures gamers seeking a (relatively) inexpensive skirmish game that is both scalable and incorporates air, sea, and land elements, I would strongly recommend taking a look at Dystopian Wars. It’s a blast to play and looks like it will only improve with time.



1 Comment

  1. Great article, Jim!!!!!!


  1. Dystopian Wars – September Releases » Armchair General - [...] General has just scored the vendor list for the upcoming releases to Dystopian Wars. As expected there are a…